Wireless Systems Design

An Old Favorite Has A New Twist

Lately, it seems like everyone who is connected to the wireless-handset market is concerned with convergence. Previously, such convergence meant having one device that could function as both a phone and an e-mail/wireless-Internet device. In other words, people thought the trend would be toward carrying a single device rather than a cell phone, Blackberry, and more. Yet only a small fragment of the market—mostly professionals—has adopted such "smart phones." The larger portion of consumers is attracted to the newest feature phones.

This consumer interest was evidenced by the success of the camera phone. Because of that phone's ongoing success, everyone from chip makers to service providers is now trying to decide which fun service to build into cell phones next. Due to the popularity of MP3 players like the iPod, one goal is to add music to future handhelds.

To regain some of its past foothold in the mobile music market, for example, Sony Ericsson recently announced the W800. It is the first "Walkman" mobile phone. I fondly remember my first cassette-radio Sony Walkman, as I'm sure many do. In fact, that Walkman ranks up there as one of my favorite gifts of all time. I even remember the first cassette that I played in it.

To me, that Walkman represented freedom. I could listen to music without waking my little sister. I also gained some much-needed privacy. With the Walkman, it was harder for my older brother and sister to criticize my playlist. Plus, my parents didn't have to tell me to turn it down.

Sony's market dominance faded as mobile-music technology evolved. Eventually, devices like the iPod allowed Apple to rise from the ashes to dominate the new MP3-player arena. Like Sony, however, Apple will probably find that market dominance doesn't last forever. If convergence follows its predicted path, combined devices will make many individual devices obsolete. For instance, people are predicting that camera phones could eventually put an end to digital cameras.

The Walkman seems like the perfect way to test these predictions. The famous brand name could re-establish itself through Sony Ericsson's new cell phone. That phone makes it possible to listen to music, handle phone calls, and take pictures and video. The W800 combines a mobile phone, a high-quality digital music player with up to 30 hours of battery life, and a 2-Megapixel camera.

The device's music player and phone functions interoperate very smoothly. Users never have to miss a call when they're listening to music, as the phone ring is played through the stereo headphones. If the user chooses to take the call, the music is paused for the call's duration. The W800 also boasts superior sound quality, plentiful storage capacity, and compatibility with industry-standard music-file formats.

The Walkman phone is expected to be on the market by the third quarter of this year. At that point, the industry will be able to gauge consumer interest in handheld devices that are increasingly packed with features. In the meantime, designers will strive to satisfy the constant demands of power consumption, cost, and performance in products that grow more complicated by the day. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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